[Please note the added comments at the end of the article]

The large gap that exists between Roman Catholic historical scholarship and Roman Catholic apologists is a large one indeed. One often finds the historians admitting what the apologists will not regarding the truths of history that are so often utterly contradictory to later Roman dogmatic claims. This is especially true regarding such modern doctrinal developments as the Marian dogmas and the infallible Papacy.

Over the past few years Roman Catholic apologists have been producing a great deal of written material of varying levels of quality. Books and magazines of this nature gain a wide audience. As in so much of our modern culture, many readers are willing to simply accept at face value whatever is said without performing any first-hand testing of the quality of the data being presented, let alone the conclusions that follow. The result has been a growing body of “Catholic legends,” claims or concepts that are being presented as absolute fact by large numbers of Catholics who simply do not know better.

A glowing example of how these “urban legends” get started can be seen in the way in which Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism is treated by Catholic readers starved for some kind of an answer to the Evangelical position. If it appears in the pages of C&F, it must be true! And so highly questionable statements of dubious historic integrity (easily challenged by anyone familiar with the historic sources) end up being repeated as pure fact by those who implicitly trust their sources.

On page 217 of Catholicism and Fundamentalism we find a paragraph that has given rise to two of these “Catholic legends,” ideas that are utterly without merit, historically speaking, but are now a part of the “lore” that makes up the majority of Catholic apologetics. Just as the medieval Church built its power on the back of spurious documents and forged decretals, modern Roman Catholics find a means of propping up their faith in supposedly historical dogmas through this kind of writing:

As Christians got clearer and clearer notions of the teaching authority of the whole Church and of the primacy of the Pope, they got clearer notions of the Pope’s own infallibility. This happened early on. In 433 Pope Sixtus III declared that to assent to the Bishop of Rome’s decision is to assent to Peter, who lives in his successors and whose faith does not fail. Cyprian of Carthage, writing about 256, asked: “Would heretics dare to come to the very seat of Peter whence apostolic faith is derived and whither no errors can come?” Augustine of Hippo summed up the ancient attitude when he remarked, “Rome has spoken; the case is closed.”

We have often seen amateur Catholic apologists confidently asserting that Cyprian believed in the infallibility of the bishop of Rome, or that Augustine took the word of Rome as the final authority. Surely that is Keating’s intention, given the context, in citing both patristic sources. But, as all students of church history know (and as Roman Catholic historians have admitted for a very long time), neither early father would have agreed with the use of their words by Keating. In fact, Keating could never defend the veracity of his research against a meaningful criticism. Let’s look briefly at Cyprian and Augustine and see how this Catholic legend is just that: legendary.


Cyprian did indeed speak of the “seat of Peter,” in Latin, the “cathedra Petri.” It was also very central to his view of church unity and authority. No one who broke unity with the cathedra Petri was truly in the Church. All of this is quite true. And beyond this, Cyprian spoke highly of the Roman see when defending Cornelius as a result of the Novationist schism in Rome. He rebuked those who rejected Cornelius’ position as the bishop of Rome. Despite this, Cyprian sent a sharp rebuke to Cornelius when he gave audience to men who had been deposed in North Africa.

But it is just here that we learn how important it is to study church history as a discipline, not as a mere tool to be used in polemic debate. We can assume out of generosity that when Mr. Keating wrote his book he actually believed that when Cyprian spoke of the “cathedra Petri” that Cyprian understood this phrase as a modern Roman Catholic would. That is, he may well have assumed that the “seat of Peter” was understood by everyone back then to refer to the bishop of Rome. However, all students of church history know differently. Cyprian (and the North African church as a whole for the span of centuries) believed the “chair of Peter” referred to all bishops in all churches across the world. Cyprian, for example, claimed to sit upon the “cathedra Petri” as did all bishops. For example, he wrote in Epistle XXVI:

Our Lord, whose precepts and admonitions we ought to observe, describing the honor of a bishop and the order of His Church, speaks in the Gospel, and says to Peter: ‘I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ Thence, through the changes of times and successions, the ordering of bishops and the plan of the Church flow onwards; so that the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers (emphasis added).

This fact is recognized by Roman Catholic historians. Johannes Quasten, Catholic patristic scholar, commented, (Patrology, vol. 2, p. 375), “Thus he understands Matth. 16, 18 of the whole episcopate, the various members of which, attached to one another by the laws of charity and concord, thus render the Church universal a single body.” And a little later Quasten cites the words of an African Synod, led by Cyprian, which said:

No one among us sets himself up as a bishop of bishops, or by tyranny and terror forces his colleagues to compulsory obedience, seeing that every bishop in the freedom of his liberty and power possesses the right to his own mind and can no more be judged by another than he himself can judge another. We must all await the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, who singly and alone has power both to appoint us to the government of his Church and to judge our acts therein (CSEL 3, 1, 436).

Quasten then comments:

From these words it is evident that Cyprian does not recognize a primacy of jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome over his colleagues. Nor does he think Peter was given power over the other apostles….No more did Peter claim it: ‘Even Peter, whom the Lord first chose and upon whom He built His Church, when Paul later disputed with him over circumcision, did not claim insolently any prerogative for himself, nor make any arrogant assumptions nor say that he had the primacy and ought to be obeyed’ (Epist. 71, 3).

Quasten goes on to note that Cyprian did see Rome as an important see, however,

…even in this letter he makes it quite clear that he does not concede to Rome any higher right to legislate for other sees because he expects her not to interfere in his own diocese ‘since to each separate shepherd has been assigned one portion of the flock to direct and govern and render hereafter an account of his ministry to the Lord’ (Epist. 59,14).

But there is more, much more, from Roman Catholic writers. Michael Winter writes in St. Peter and the Popes (Wesport: Greenwood, 1960, pp. 47-48):

Cyprian used the Petrine text of Matthew to defend episcopal authority, but many later theologians, influenced by the papal connections of the text, have interpreted Cyprian in a pro-papal sense which was alien to his thought…..Cyprian would have used Matthew 16 to defend the authority of any bishop, but since he happened to employ it for the sake of the Bishop of Rome, it created the impression that he understood it as referring to papal authority…Catholics as well as Protestants are now generally agreed that Cyprian did not attribute a superior authority to Peter.

Robert Eno, another historian, writes in The Rise of the Papacy (Wilmington: Michael Glazer, 1990), p. 58, “The Chair of Peter…belongs to each lawful bishop in his own see. Cyprian holds the Chair of Peter in Carthage and Cornelius in Rome….You must hold to this unity if you are to remain in the Church.” And finally, Jesuit Klaus Schatz writes in Papal Primacy, p. 20, “Cyprian regarded every bishop as the successor of Peter, holder of the keys to the kingdom of heaven and possessor of the power to bind and loose. For him, Peter embodied the original unity of the Church and the episcopal office, but in principle these were also present in every bishop.”

But there is more. Cornelius’ successor, Stephen, was an arrogant prelate. Full of himself, he sowed discord amongst the churches. Cyprian severely reprimanded him, as did others. When Stephen attempted to meddle in the affairs of the North African churches, including overturning the deposing of one Basilides, who then went to Rome to attempt to find assistance in his cause, Cyprian and the North Africans rejected his attempts. Cyprian wrote,

Neither can it rescind an ordination rightly perfected, that Basilides, after the detection of his crimes, and the baring of his conscience even by his own confession, went to Rome and deceived Stephen our colleague, placed at a distance, and ignorant of what had been done, and of the truth, to canvass that he might be replaced unjustly in the episcopate from which he had been righteously deposed.

Deceived the bishop of Rome? The source of infallible and apostolic truth could be deceived about the orthodoxy of a man so as to improperly guide the church in regards to its leadership and teaching? How could such be? Obviously, the church of this day had no concept of an infallible Pope, nor any concept that the bishop of Rome was the universal head of the Church. Any reading of the correspondence between Cyprian and Firmilian, bishop of Caesarea (such as Epistle LXXIV, wherein Firmilian accuses Stephen of numerous errors, including transmitting false “tradition”), makes it very clear: neither believed as Karl Keating would like his readers to think they did.

Now we noted above that at the time Karl Keating wrote Catholicism and Fundamentalism, it is quite possible he was ignorant of the situation. He may, like so many other Roman Catholic apologists, have assumed that “chair of Peter” always meant the Roman bishop. He had probably never read much of Cyprian for himself, and was just going on what others had told him. But, the fact of the matter is, that is no longer an excuse. In the years since the publication of the work, Keating has been shown his error, multiple times. And yet his book, and his organization, continues to promote the myth that Cyprian was a believer in Papal infallibility. A glowing Roman Catholic myth.


Augustine’s Sermon 131


Even less excusable is the constant use of Augustine’s comments in Sermon 131, quoted by Keating as “Rome has spoken; the case is closed.” Keating puts these words in quotes, indicating that Augustine actually said this. He places it in the context of Papal Infallibility. It is clearly his intention to communicate to his readers that Augustine 1) said these words, and 2) was speaking about the subject in his sermon.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. Augustine never said what Keating quotes. In fact, here is the actual Latin text of the final section of Sermon 131 from Migne, PL 38:734:

Jam enim de hac causa duo concilia missa sunt ad sedem apostolicam; inde etiam rescripta venerunt; causa finita est: Utinam aliquando finiatur error.

Translated, it reads,

. . . for already on this matter two councils have sent to the Apostolic See, whence also rescripts (reports) have come. The cause is finished, would that the error may terminate likewise.

These comments are in reference to the heresy of Pelagianism, which Augustine had been battling in the church in North Africa. This sermon, delivered September 23, 416, begins, ironically, with an exposition of John 6:53 that is directly contradictory to modern Roman teaching on the doctrine of transubstantiation. Since so few take the time to actually read the contexts of the statements about which arguments are based in patristic sources, I provide the first two sections of this sermon, which show us the direction that Augustine was taking:

We have heard the True Master, the Divine Redeemer, the human Savior, commending to us our Ransom, His Blood. For He spake to us of His Body and Blood; He called His Body Meat, His Blood Drink. The faithful recognize the Sacrament of the faithful. But the hearers what else do they but hear? When therefore commending such Meat and such Drink He said, “Except ye shall eat My Flesh and drink My Blood, ye shall have no life in you; ” (and this that He said concerning life, who else said it but the Life Itself? But that man shall have death, not life, who shall think that the Life is false), His disciples were offended, not all of them indeed, but very many, saying within themselves, “This is an hard saying, who can hear it? ” But when the Lord knew this in Himself, and heard the murmurings of their thought, He answered them, thinking though uttering nothing, that they might understand that they were heard, and might cease to entertain such thoughts. What then did He answer? “Doth this offend you?” “What then if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?” What meaneth this? “Doth this offend you ?” “Do ye imagine that I am about to make divisions of this My Body which ye see; and to cut up My Members, and give them to you? ‘ What then if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before ?’” Assuredly, He who could ascend Whole could not be consumed. So then He both gave us of His Body and Blood a healthful refreshment, and briefly solved so great a question as to His Own Entireness. Let them then who eat, eat on, and them that drink, drink; let them hunger and thirst; eat Life, drink Life. That eating, is to be refreshed; but thou art in such wise refreshed, as that that whereby thou art refreshed, faileth not. That drinking, what is it but to live? Eat Life, drink Life; thou shalt have life, and the Life is Entire. But then this shall be, that is, the Body and the Blood of Christ shall be each man’s Life; if what is taken in the Sacrament visibly is in the truth itself eaten spiritually, drunk spiritually. For we have heard the Lord Himself saying, “It is the Spirit That quickeneth, but the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I have spoken unto you, are Spirit and Life. But there are some of you,” saith He, “that believe not.” Such were they who said, “This is a hard saying, who can hear it?” It is hard, but only to the hard; that is, it is incredible, but only to the incredulous.

2. But in order to teach us that this very believing is matter of gift, not of desert, He saith, “As I have said unto you, no man cometh unto Me, except it were given him of My Father.” Now as to where the Lord said this, if we call to mind the foregoing words of the Gospel, we shall find that He had said, “No man cometh unto Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him.” He did not lead, but draw. This violence is done to the heart, not the body. Why then dost thou marvel? Believe, and thou comest; love, and thou art drawn. Do not suppose here any rough and uneasy violence; it is gentle, it is sweet; it is the very sweetness that draweth thee. Is not a sheep drawn, when fresh grass is shown to it in its hunger? Yet I imagine that it is not bodily driven on, but fast bound by desire. In such wise do thou come too to Christ; do not conceive of long journeyings; where thou believest, there thou comest. For unto Him, who is everywhere we come by love, not by sailing. But forasmuch as even in this kind of voyage, waves and tempests of divers temptations abound; believe on the Crucified; that thy faith may be able to ascend the Wood. Thou shalt not sink, but shalt be borne upon the Wood. Thus, even thus, amid the waves of this world did he sail, who said, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The entire sermon is a presentation of the gospel of grace. And to give the proper context to the actual words of Augustine, read the sections that immediately precede his final statements:

8. …Hear what God saith; “Who crowneth thee with mercy and pity.” Of His mercy He crowneth thee, of His pity He crowneth thee. For thou hadst no worthiness that He should call thee, and being called should justify thee, being justified glorify thee. “The remnant is saved by the election of grace. But if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. For to him that worketh, the reward shall not be reckoned according to grace, but according to debt.” The Apostle saith, “Not according to grace, but according to debt.” But “thee He crowneth with pity and mercy;” and if thy own merits have gone before, God saith to thee, “Examine well thy merits, and thou shalt see that they are My gifts.”

9. This then is the righteousness of God. As it is called, “The Lord’s salvation,” not whereby the Lord is saved, but which He giveth to them whom He saveth; so too the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord is called the righteousness of God, not as that whereby the Lord is righteous, but whereby He justifieth those whom of ungodly He maketh righteous. But some, as the Jews in former times, both wish to be called Christians, and still ignorant of God’s righteousness, desire to establish their own, even in our own times, in the times of open grace, the times of the full revelation of grace which before was hidden; in the times of grace now manifested in the floor, which once lay hid in the fleece. I see that a few have understood me, that more have not understood, whom I will by no means defraud by keeping silence. Gideon, one of the righteous men of old, asked for a sign from the Lord, and said, “I pray, Lord, that this fleece which I put in the floor be bedewed, and that the floor be dry.” And it was so; the fleece was bedewed, the whole floor was dry. In the morning he wrung out the fleece in a basin; forasmuch as to the humble is grace given; and in a basin, ye know what the Lord did to His disciples. Again, he asked for another sign; “O Lord, I would,” saith he, “that the fleece be dry, the floor bedewed.” And it was so. Call to mind the time of the Old Testament, grace was hidden in a cloud, as the rain in the fleece. Mark now the time of the New Testament, consider well the nation of the Jews, thou wilt find it as a dry fleece; whereas the whole world, like that floor, is full of grace, not hidden, but manifested. Wherefore we are forced exceedingly to bewail our brethren, who strive not against hidden, but against open and manifested grace. There is allowance for the Jews. What shall we say of Christians? Wherefore are ye enemies to the grace of Christ? Why rely ye on yourselves? Why unthankful? For why did Christ come? Was not nature here before? Was not nature here, which ye only deceive by your excessive praise? Was not the Law here? But the Apostle says, “If righteousness come by the Law, then Christ is dead in vain.” What the Apostle says of the Law, that say we of nature to these men. “If righteousness come by nature, then Christ is dead in vain.”

The final words of the sermon, then, in which we find the key phrase (placed in bold), are in reference to this heresy, this error (Pelagianism), and its denial of grace. I simply point out that throughout the sermon you have had one source of authority cited over and over again: Holy Scripture. No quotations of Popes or prelates, just Scripture. With this in mind, we come to the actual passage:

10. What then was said of the Jews, the same altogether do we see in these men now. “They have a zeal of God: I hear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.” What is, “not according to knowledge”? “For being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and wishing to establish their own, they have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” My Brethren, share with me in my sorrow. When ye find such as these, do not hide them; be there no such misdirected mercy in you; by all means, when ye find such, hide them not. Convince the gainsayers, and those who resist, bring to us. For already have two councils on this question been sent to the Apostolic see; and rescripts also have come from thence. The question has been brought to an issue; would that their error may sometime be brought to an issue too! Therefore do we advise that they may take heed, we teach that they may be instructed, we pray that they may be changed. Let us turn to the Lord, etc.

It is a measure of the utter desperation of the Roman position to have to make reference to such things, in our opinion. The topic is not the bishop of Rome nor the authority of Rome. It is obvious, beyond question, that Augustine’s point is that Pelagianism is a refuted error. It is not refuted because the bishop of Rome has refuted it. It is refuted because it is opposed to Scripture. Two councils have concluded this, and the bishop of Rome has agreed. From Augustine’s position, the error has been exposed and refuted. If only those who are in error would come to know the truth! Augustine exhorts his hearers to teach the gainsayers, and pray that they may be dissuaded from their errors.

This then is the context and content of Sermon 131 of Augustine (which is, btw, Sermon 81 in the Eerdman’s set, pp. 501-504 of volume VI for those who wish to read the entirety of the work). It is now painfully obvious that to place the words “Roma locuta est, causa finita est” in quotation marks and attribute them to Augustine in the context of Papal Infallibility is simply inexcusable. But, there is more to the situation than that. For history shows us that Augustine would never have uttered such words in the context Keating alleges. How he responded when Zosimus became bishop of Rome and attacked the North African churches for condemning Pelagius proves, to any person even semi-desirous of fairly dealing with Augustine’s position, that Augustine did not view the bishop of Rome as the infallible leader of the Christian Church. But to appreciate fully the depth of the error of Roman Catholic controversialists at this point, we must take a few moments to study the history.

B.B. Warfield wrote concerning the history of the Pelagian controversy, and especially of Augustine’s response to Zosimus, bishop of Rome:

Soon afterwards two Gallic bishops, — Heros of Arles, and Lazarus of Aix, — who were then in Palestine, lodged a formal accusation against Pelagius with the metropolitan, Eulogius of Caesarea; and he convened a synod of fourteen bishops which met at Lydda (Diospolis), in December of the same year (415), for the trial of the case. Perhaps no greater ecclesiastical farce was ever enacted than this synod exhibited. When the time arrived, the accusers were prevented from being present by illness, and Pelagius was confronted only by the written accusation. This was both unskillfully drawn, and was written in Latin which the synod did not understand. It was, therefore, not even consecutively read, and was only head rendered into Greek by an interpreter. Pelagius began by reading aloud several letters to himself from various men of reputation in the Episcopate, — among them a friendly not from Augustin. Thoroughly acquainted with both Latin and Greek, he was enabled skillfully to thread every difficulty, and pass safely through the ordeal. Jerome called this a “miserable synod,” and not unjustly: at the same time it is sufficient to vindicate the honesty and earnestness of the bishops’ intentions, that even in such circumstances, and despite the more undeveloped opinions of the East on the questions involved, Pelagius escaped condemnation only by a course of most ingenious disingenuousness, and only at the cost both of disowning Coelestius and his teachings, of which he had been the real father, and of leading the synod to believe that he was anathematizing the very doctrines which he was himself proclaiming. There is really no possibility of doubting, as any one will see who reads the proceedings of the synod, that Pelagius obtained his acquittal here either by a “lying condemnation or a tricky interpretation” of his own teachings; and Augustin is perfectly justified in asserting that the “heresy was not acquitted, but the man who denied the heresy,” and who would himself have been anathematized had he not anathematized the heresy.

However obtained, the acquittal of Pelagius was yet an accomplished fact. Neither he nor his friends delayed to make the most widely extended use of their good fortune. Pelagius himself was jubilant. Accounts of the synodal proceedings were sent to the West, not altogether free from uncandid alterations; and Pelagius soon put forth a work In Defense of Free-Will, in which he triumphed in his acquittal and “explained his explanations” at the synod. Nor were the champions of the opposite opinion idle. As soon as the news arrived in North Africa, and before the authentic records of the synod had reached that region, the condemnation of Pelagius and Coelestius was re-affirmed in two provincial synods, — one, consisting of sixty-eight bishops, met at Carthage about midsummer of 416; and the other, consisting of about sixty bishops, met soon afterwards at Mileve (Mila). Thus Palestine and North Africa were arrayed against one another, and it became of great importance to obtain the support of the Patriarchal See of Rome. Both sides made the attempt, but fortune favored the Africans. Each of the North-African synods sent a synodal letter to Innocent I., then Bishop of Rome, engaging his assent to their action: to these, five bishops, Aurelius of Carthage and Augustin among them, added a third “familiar” letter of their own, in which they urged upon Innocent to examine into Pelagius’ teaching, and provided him with the material on which he might base a decision. The letters reached Innocent in time for him to take advice of his clergy, and send favorable replies on Jan. 27, 417. In these he expressed his agreement with the African decisions, asserted the necessity of inward grace, rejected the Pelagian theory of infant baptism, and declared Pelagius and Coelestius excommunicated until they should return to orthodoxy. In about six weeks more he was dead: but Zosimus, his successor, was scarcely installed in his place before Coelestius appeared at Rome in person to plead his cause; while shortly afterwards letters arrived from Pelagius addressed to Innocent, and by an artful statement of his belief and a recommendation from Praylus, lately become bishop of Jerusalem in John’s stead, attempting to enlist Rome in his favor. Zosimus, who appears to have been a Greek and therefore inclined to make little of the merits of this Western controversy, went over to Coelestius at once, upon his profession of willingness to anathematize all doctrines which the pontifical see had condemned or should condemn; and wrote a sharp and arrogant letter to Africa, proclaiming Coelestius “catholic,” and requiring the Africans to appear within two months at Rome to prosecute their charges, or else to abandon them.

At this point I insert the comment of Schaff, who expands upon the content of this letter from Zosimus:

Zosimus, who evidently had no independent theological opinion whatever, now issued (417) to the North African bishops an encyclical letter accompanied by the documentary evidence, censuring them for not having investigated the matter more thoroughly, and for having aspired, in foolish, overcurious controversies, to know more than the Holy Scriptures. At the same time he bore emphatic testimony to the orthodoxy of Pelagius and Coelestius, and described their chief opponents, Heros and Lazarus, as worthless characters, whom he had visited with excommunication and deposition. They in Rome, he says, could hardly refrain from tears, that such men, who so often mentioned the gratia Dei and the adjutorium divinum, should have been condemned as heretics. Finally he entreated the bishops to submit themselves to the authority of the Roman see. (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, III:798).

Lest someone mistrust Protestant writers, note this Roman Catholic author, a professor at the Catholic University of America:

Augustine…could see through the entire charade. The pope had neglected to inquire rigorously into the Pelagian’s (Caelestius) understanding of grace; he had been content to accept superficial responses….A second letter from Zosimus to the Africans, Postquam a nobis written in September 417, did nothing to dispel Augustine’s worries. Pelagius had written to the pope once again, thoroughly convincing him of his orthodoxy, and Zosimus had ordered Pelagius’ letters to be read aloud at the papal court in order that everyone could be apprised of his orthodoxy. To the Africans Zosimus ebulliently exclaimed: ‘Would that some of you, dearest brethren, could have been present at the reading of the letters. What was the joy of the holy men who were present; what was the admiration of each of them! Some of them could scarcely restrain themselves from tears and weeping that such men of absolutely correct faith could have been suspected. Was there a single place in which the grace of God or his aid was omitted?’ At the end of his letter, however, the pope lambasted the Africans as ‘whirlwinds’ and ‘storms of the church’ and accused them of judging Pelagius and Caelestius wholly unfairly….In Quamuis patrum written in March 418, he deliberately flaunted his apostolic authority and claimed that no one should dispute his judgment.…”So great is our authority that no decision of ours can be subjected to review….Such is the authority of Peter and the venerable decrees of the church that all questions concerning human and divine laws, as well as all disciplinary matters, must be referred to Rome for ultimate resolution.” This was high–flown language indeed and, as far as the Africans were concerned, totally unacceptable (J.E. Merdinger, Rome and the African Church in the Time of Augustine (New Haven: Yale University, 1997), pp. 128-129).

Keep these words in mind: Zosimus was claiming grand authority; Zosimus’ conclusions were clear and unequivocal. I continue with Warfield:

On the arrival of Pelagius’ papers, this letter was followed by another (September, 417), in which Zosimus, with the approbation of the clergy, declared both Pelagius and Coelestius to be orthodox, and severely rebuked the Africans for their hasty judgment. It is difficult to understand Zosimus’ action in this matter: neither of the confessions presented by the accused teachers ought to have deceived him, and if he was seizing the occasion to magnify the Roman see, his mistake was dreadful. Late in 417, or early in 418, the African bishops assembled at Carthage, in number more than two hundred and replied to Zosimus that they had decided that the sentence pronounced against Pelagius and Coelestius should remain in force until they should unequivocally acknowledge that “we are aided by the grace of God, through Christ, not only to know, but to do what is right, in each single act, so that without grace we are unable to have, think, speak, or do anything pertaining to piety.” This firmness made Zosimus waver. He answered swellingly but timidly, declaring that he had maturely examined the matter, but it had not been his intention finally to acquit Coelestius; and now he had left all things in the condition in which they were before, but he claimed the right of final judgment to himself. Matters were hastening to a conclusion, however, that would leave him no opportunity to escape from the mortification of an entire change of front. This letter was written on the 21st of March, 418; it was received in Africa on the 29th of April; and on the very next day an imperial decree was issued from Ravenna ordering Pelagius and Coelestius to be banished from Rome, with all who held their opinions; while on the next day, May 1, a plenary council of about two hundred bishops met at Carthage, and in nine canons condemned all the essential features of Pelagianism. Whether this simultaneous action was the result of skillful arrangement, can only be conjectured: its effect was in any case necessarily crushing. There could be no appeal from the civil decision, and it played directly into the hands of the African definition of the faith. The synod’s nine canons part naturally into three triads. The first of these deals with the relation of mankind to original sin, and anathematizes in turn those who assert that physical death is a necessity of nature, and not a result of Adam’s sin; those who assert that new-born children derive nothing of original sin from Adam to be expiated by the laver of regeneration; and those who assert a distinction between the kingdom of heaven and eternal life, for entrance into the former of which alone baptism is necessary. The second triad deals with the nature of grace, and anathematizes those who assert that grace aids us not to sin, only by teaching us what is sinful, not by enabling us to will and do what we know to be right; and those who assert that grace only enables us to do more easily what we should without it still be able to do. The third triad deals with the universal sinfulness of the race, and anathematizes those who assert that the apostles’ (I John I.8) confession of sin is due only to their humility; those who say that “Forgive us our trespasses” in the Lord’s Prayer, is pronounced by the saints, not for themselves, but for the sinners in their company; and those who say that the saints use these words of themselves only out of humility and not truly. Here we see a careful traversing of the whole ground of the controversy, with a conscious reference to the three chief contentions of the Pelagian teachers.

The appeal to the civil power, by whomsoever made, was, of course, indefensible, although it accorded with the opinions of the day, and was entirely approved by Augustin. But it was the ruin of the Pelagian cause. Zosimus found himself forced either to go into banishment with his wards, or to desert their cause. He appears never to have had any personal convictions on the dogmatic points involved in the controversy, and so, all the more readily, yielded to the necessity of the moment. He cited Coelestius to appear before a council for a new examination; but that heresiarch consulted prudence, and withdrew from the city. Zosimus, possibly in the effort to appear a leader in the cause he had opposed, not only condemned and excommunicated the men whom less than six months before he had pronounced “orthodox” after a ‘mature consideration of the matters involved,’ but, in obedience to the imperial decree, issued a stringent paper which condemned Pelagius and the Pelagians, and affirmed the African doctrines as to corruption of nature, true grace, and the necessity of baptism. To this he required subscription from all bishops as a test of orthodoxy. (NPNF Series 1:V, xviii-xx).

We should remember a few vital points. First, Zosimus claimed to have “maturely examined” the issue of the confession of Pelagius and Coelestus. He proclaimed them orthodox and Catholic, and gave instructions to the North Africans based upon his self-proclaimed authority. Next, the North Africans rejected his instructions. Knowing full well what he intended, the North African bishops, including Augustine, stood their ground upon the basis of Scriptural teaching. If a person today said, “I understand the bishop of Rome says X about such and such a person, and proclaims them orthodox on the basis of a mature examination, but I reject his conclusions based upon Scriptural teaching,” would you identify that person as 1) Roman Catholic, or 2) Protestant? Third, despite his claims to authority and despite his claim to have “maturely examined” the issue as the bishop of Rome, Zosimus had to do a complete about-face. What changed? RC apologists say Zosimus had just been deceived and he learned of his deception, and that he would have done the right thing from the start had he known all the facts. But it is too obvious that Zosimus came into the situation desirous of flexing his new “muscle” as bishop of the largest see in the West, and foolishly and rashly made pronouncements about vital issues (here, the very nature of the gospel, rehabilitating a rank heretic!) and only reversed course by force and not by conviction. Next, for those who ask why either side appealed to Rome in the first place, the answer is obvious: the situation pitted the Palestinian churches against the North African churches, and both sides recognized the value of having the only apostolic see in the West on their side. The fact that the North African churches likewise appealed to the Emperor in Ravenna for confirmation of their action no more means they saw the Emperor as the “head of the church” than their appeal to Rome does. Finally, it is obvious beyond question that Augustine did not take the view that Zosimus was an infallible leader of the Christian Church. If he and the bishops of North Africa had, they would never have acted as they did.

At this point someone might well say, “OK, well, Karl Keating was in error on that. Maybe he hadn’t done his homework.” Perhaps so. But many years have passed since his book was published. Surely in that time he has been faced with these facts. His organization, Catholic Answers, publishes a magazine, This Rock, that contains a regular section called “The Fathers Know Best.” Surely, in all those years, the people working at Catholic Answers would have to become aware of the historic facts that demonstrate the error of Keating’s assertion in his book. But at the very least, we hope that our readers will continue to bring this issue to his attention and challenge him to correct his error.

[For even more on this topic, see William Webster’s comments: http://www.christiantruth.com/ray5augustine.html]


Stephen Ray’s Presentation


But while we can excuse Keating on the basis of possible ignorance of the actual events of history, we cannot do so with Catholic convert Stephen K. Ray. Instead, we must soberly conclude that his treatment of this issue in his 1999 book Upon This Rock (Ignatius Press) is simply deceptive. This work is, in my opinion, the clearest example of the lengths to which a Roman controversialist will go in twisting history so as to support Roman claims. In a work that is without question one of the least accurate and scholarly works I have ever seen on the subject, one that argues in circles constantly, Ray addresses both Cyprian and Augustine’s views. However, given that Ray does not use the tools of a historian, and in fact utterly abandons any kind of scholarly methodology, the result is predictable. He early on exposes how utterly unreliable his work will be in words such as these:

Sometimes silence is more eloquent than words. This is especially true in Church history. We hear so much about what the Fathers say and so little about what they do not say. This is revealing and should play a significant role in our research. (Upon this Rock, p. 12).

Such a methodology is, quite simply laughable. Ray goes on to use this to argue that unless an early Father specifically denies Petrine primacy and succession that this is somehow “relevant” to historical research. It is painfully obvious, to any semi-unbiased reviewer, that Ray is assuming what he seems to know he cannot prove. The grotesquely anachronistic “examination” that follows is glowing evidence of Ray’s inability to accurately handle historical data and to provide any kind of meaningful presentation. Protestant apologist William Webster has thoroughly refuted Ray (see www.christiantruth.com) who, in response, has only been able to provide more thorough documentation of his own anachronistic, circular reasoning. Utilization of Ray’s means of thought could provide the basis for any kind of belief in the early church, no matter how far-fetched.

But despite this, Ray’s treatment of both Cyprian and Augustine is not just grossly flawed, it is deceptive. It is obvious Ray knows the truth of the matter, but he either suppresses that truth, or twists it into a shape unrecognizable to anyone who reads the early Fathers for themselves. When dealing with Cyprian he desperately attempts to undercut the reality of Cyprian’s view of the cathedra Petri, and likewise somehow “forgets” to cite the passages we provided above which demonstrate Cyprian’s rejection of Stephen’s meddling in the affairs of the North African Church. Though providing lengthy footnotes, he does nothing but ignore Cyprian’s real doctrine, while attacking William Webster for pointing out the obvious. But our concern is much more with the tremendously deceptive presentation regarding Augustine’s Sermon 131.

Beginning on page 230, Ray provides a completely circular argument, not based upon Augustine, but upon Ray’s desperate need to read into Augustine the concept of Petrine primacy in the bishop of Rome. His citations (as throughout the book) are meant to be relevant only given the assumption of what he is trying to prove, the pre-existing commitment to the modern Roman theory of Petrine primacy. He even takes a pathetically weak shot at my own discussion of Augustine’s view of Matthew 16:18-19 which is so poorly constructed that there is no need to refute it: it stands as its own refutation. But on page 233 we read the following: “Roma locuta est; causa finita est [Rome has spoken; the case is closed].” Look familiar? It should. As we have seen, Augustine never said this. Ray uses the same quotes Keating did: but, he then attaches an almost page-length footnote that shows that he is well aware Augustine never uttered these words! This is the deception. Keating can claim ignorance: Ray has no such excuse. Look at what Ray says:

This popular, shortened version of Augustine’s statement put to rest the contention caused by the Pelagian heretics. The full text of his statement—the exact equivalent of the shortened version above—is, “[On the matter of the Pelagians] two Councils have already been sent to the Apostolic See [Rome]; and from there rescripts [decrees from the Pope] have come. The matter is at an end [causa finita est]; would that the error too might sometime be at an end.” (Jurgens, Faith of the Early Fathers, 3:28).

As we see, Ray knows that Augustine did not say the words he quotes, but, he excuses this misrepresentation by re-translating the term “rescripts” (Latin: rescripta) as “decrees from the Pope.” Upon what basis does he do this? We are not told. We know that Innocent responded to the actions of the councils in North Africa. It is pure anachronism to 1) assume the North Africans held to Rome’s view of supremacy, 2) assume that the North Africans felt their actions required “ratification” by the bishop of Rome, and 3) assume that Augustine was basing his statement “the matter is at an end” on the decision of Innocent rather than (as the context shows) the Scriptural arguments he had presented against Pelagianism and the actions of the North African councils. Ray makes no reference to the actual substance of Sermon 131. He never quotes it. And what is worse, he utterly ignores the entire issue of Zosimus and the entire history of what transpired immediately after this sermon was preached! Instead, he provides two Roman Catholic citations that utterly ignore the historical context of Augustine’s words. One, from Bernard Otten, is a simply ridiculous assertion that while Augustine never said “Roma locuta est,” “its equivalents occur again and again.” We have already seen Sermon 131 surely does not do this, so where else do we look for these “equivalents”? We are not told. Another pro-Rome work is cited that inserts the anachronistic idea that the North African bishops felt they had to send the conclusions of their councils to Rome “for ratification,” and as normal, we are not given any foundation upon which we can examine the claim. The fact that the North Africans rejected Zosimus’ clear, forceful rehabilitation of Pelagius, which included his insulting the North Africans as “storms of the church” and “whirlwinds” and which came couched within his complete claim of apostolic authority, shows this is not the case. The North Africans rejected his authority and his conclusions. So upon what basis can anyone say they felt the decisions of their councils needed Roman ratification? Indeed, as John Meyendorff points out, barely three years later these same African bishops wrote to Celestine, bishop of Rome, and said, “Who will believe that our God could inspire justice in the inquiries of one man only (i.e., the bishop of Rome) and refuse it to innumerable bishops gathered in council?” (Imperial Unity and Christian Division, 1989, p. 65). Does that sound like these men believed as Stephen Ray assumes everyone must have? Surely not. The facts are clear.


Myths are Dangerous


I have dialogued with many a Roman Catholic who, upon facing the biblical evidence concerning the gospel of grace, has retreated into an argument based upon the authority of Rome. And when challenged on that, they have reproduced these very Roman Catholic legends, myths, based upon the misrepresentation of men like Cyprian and Augustine. These folks really believe Augustine was a servant of an infallible Pope. He wasn’t. They actually believe someone who lived as early as Cyprian believed the bishop of Rome was the sole successor of Peter. He didn’t. But these legends have been used to provide a foundation upon which the authority claims of Rome are based. And just as generations lived under the lies of forgeries upon which Papal authority was based in the medieval period, so modern people are kept from truly understanding the gospel of grace by an authoritative system that continues to propagate itself on the basis of untruth, whether that comes from ignorant repetition of what one has heard somewhere else, or the purposeful, deceptive twisting of history and the early Fathers.

Added Information:

June 2, 2000

The preceding article has garnered quite a response from some of Rome’s apologists.  As these replies demonstrate our oft-repeated assertion that Rome replies with smoke, mirrors, and a liberal dose of ad-hominem, without ever touching the *substance* of what has been said, we provide you with a link to Steven Ray’s long reply (we trust the reader will be able to discern its character very early on) and another completely errant attempt by Scott Windsor.  Thankfully. Scott provides the text in full of my own article, and the contrast with his response is stark.



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